Monday, 12 December 2011

Summer 2011 - Ibiza

Sat in the Gatwick Bridge Bar I asked myself the question: Why did I book a holiday to Ibiza? I'm pretty sure it sums up everything I don't look for in a holiday - Beach, Brits and all the culture of a Wetherspoons in Watford... Because it was £99, booked that afternoon, flying out that evening. Spontaneous is my favourite.

The queue for check-in looked like an uglier version of the only way is Essex and the buzz of following through with a spur of the moment decision turned to apprehension about the type of holiday I'd signed up for.

I was surrounded by luminous 'chavs on tour' group t-shirts. These are my least favourite types of people - vain, vacuous and full of self importance - or you can read that as my jealousy that they are younger and better looking than me with no responsibilities. I was still determined that I would have fun finding the less neon parts of the island and maybe even some Spanish people. It is a Spanish island right? Yes. Dinlo.

On the transfer bus from the airport to our accommodation the standard of the morons had dropped even lower. One especially drunk skinhead took it upon himself to walk up and down the bus asking everyone where they were staying. If they said somewhere other than his resort he would shout 'fuuuuuucckkk' as loud as he could as if this meant his accommodation was inferior. He also used phrases like 'hold tight' and 'standard' where I might say 'good' or at a push 'cool'.

Overly confident plebs, the lot of them. Any earlier inclinations I had to make some bus friends had well and truly gone.

We arrived at the hotel 3:30am and it was rubbish. My neighbours had brought portable speakers with them... good ones. They went straight in to party mode and kept me up until 7am. No doubt I'd have enjoyed it more on the other side of the wall but as it was all I had for entertainment was a book my eyes were too tired to read. It's also quite hard to read when you're holding your head under a pillow.

After my two hours of sleep I was ready to seize the day and went off for a walk. It didn't take long to escape Essex and find some quieter and prettier beaches, the price of a beer dropped as well and I settled down for lunch in Port del Torrent where the offer was two pints for 2.50 euros. After my lunch I did my good deed for the day, lending 10 euros to three girls who had found that none of them brought any money with them. I doubted I'd see it again but I gave it to them with a lie saying that someone had done the same for me at an airport once and I was simply paying it forward. The truth of that story was that I had given $20 to a man for his departure tax from Cambodia. I really am a great guy!

That evening I went out with Ash and Tracey, an ex couple who are still friends. Ash is a very well built fireman and Tracey is a prison warden in Wakefield where Charles Bronson resides. Apparently he still occasionally greases himself up and squares up to the guards but well in to his fifties he isn't quite the threat he used to be. One of Tracey's roles in the prison is the therapy sessions with the worst sex offenders in Britain. She is a therapist to the rapists. Therapist... the rapist. I think it's funny... The word play, not the raping.

The night was a complete failure on my part as I got too drunk and was in bed by the time most people were venturing out.

The next day some idiots set fire to the hotel. After I'd seen the plumes of black smoke coming from the apartment two across from mine I gathered my valuables together and got out. Five minutes after that the fire alarm went off. Twenty minutes after that the fire brigade showed up. Once that entertainment was done I took a bus to Ibiza town, walked up a rampart and took a few photos.

In the evening I met the girls who I had heroically saved by lending them a tenner and they gave me the money back. They seemed really upset when I revealed that I wasn't paying anything forward but we had a nice night out. Before you start writing your own endings they were all in long term relationships. So as some of you will be wondering - no I didn't!

I finished my short trip to Ibiza with a long and very sweaty walk up a few hills. The island has some beautiful parts and I had enjoyed it but it will be the last time I visit.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A few years ago I did this and thought I'd share it again

This is all true.

This afternoon I wrote a letter and sealed it in an envelope with the words 'For You' on the front. It could have been partly inspired by a craze I heard of called ‘hugs on Mondays’ but not having the guts to wrap my arms around a stranger I’m yet to try that new craze; also it’s Friday so that would not have been appropriate today.

This was the wording of the letter, written in my own hand:

I decided to watch people today and of all the people I watched you were my favourite.

I promised myself that I would only give this letter to someone who looked like a good person and who made me smile, you have done that so thank you.

I hope receiving this little letter brings you a smile.

As I drove into my local town with the letter in the passenger seat I started to panic that the letter might not be appreciated the way I wanted it to be. What if the person I give it to just thinks me odd and doesn’t enter into the spirit of my afternoon adventure. It was going to be hard to find the right recipient for this treasure and so I made some rules:

Rule 1: As the letter states the person has to look like a good person and has to make me smile.
Rule 2: I mustn’t give the letter to a girl I am attracted to because then the sentiment could be reduced to a cheap chat up line.
Rule 3: No children. Even if there’s a kid having a great time and looking deserving, full grown men in the street giving out letters to children they’ve never met would result in further questioning in the very least.

As I stepped out of the car grinning with the joyous knowledge that I had nothing more important to do than use several hours for the sole purpose of confusing a stranger I spotted the first candidate for the letter. A man was laughing with his daughter and looked like a bloody good Dad, he was probably the sort that would like my letter but giving it to the first person I met would have spoiled my fun so I let him go, he seemed happy enough without my help anyway.

One hours parking – 70p, Two hours - £1.40. I didn’t have exactly seventy pence for an hours parking and even though I had no intention of staying more than an hour I put in one pound forty for two hours so that I wasn’t short changed.

Having seen the good Dad as soon as I’d got to town I thought my task would be pretty simple and someone would stand out as a nice person worthy of the honour I was going to bestow upon them. I felt almost powerful like I was the judge of a contest, that was until I remembered what the prize for winning was, a letter that was just as likely to scare the winner as it was to please them.

I took my seat on a bench that lots of people were walking past and I began to watch and judge. A smiling lady on a bike - a possibility but I can’t catch up with her; A Mum holding hands with her two sons – she has her hands full, I’d have to post the letter in her mouth. After her… no one. Idiot after weirdo (not the good kind) after gap toothed bonehead after grumpy witch. I spent fifty minutes without anyone who even looked remotely nice passing by. Don’t get me wrong I was having a lot of fun, there were some very attractive women and some interesting grunts coming from a tramp who was stroking a bike but I was beginning to think I’d have to hold on to my letter.

A change of position was necessary, I bought a hot dog with onions and ketchup and walked up the street, surely one of these people was going to be ‘the one’. What was I looking for, someone to nurse an injured pigeon or perhaps fall over and laugh about it instead of looking angry at the pavement. I didn’t know and what was worse I doubted my ability to actually give a letter to a stranger, it could make me an eccentric I thought and I bloody hate eccentrics, they wear shorts in the winter and smile when they’re miserable.

I had been in town for an hour and a half and other than being chuffed that I’d got my moneys worth out of the parking ticket I had achieved nothing. As a last resort I went to the library, library people are good people I thought; maybe I’ll strike it lucky. One of the librarians flashed me a smile, I think she was fishing for the letter it wasn’t a genuine smile, another looked dopey but approachable, no I wouldn’t just give this precious reward out for the sake of it, someone had to make me smile. I picked up a book entitled ‘Tantric Sex’ I’d always wandered what all that was about, what it did mean was that no one was getting the letter today. There was now a chance anyone in there could have seen me reading a book about sex and if you’re receiving a strange letter from a strange person you probably don’t want that strange person to be a pervert.

As I put the book down somewhat down hearted about not finding ‘the one’ I spotted an elderly lady fast asleep with a book open in her lap, she made me smile. Surely I wasn’t going to put the letter on her lap for her to wake up to, I don’t have the guts. I turned away then back again and then I did it, as carefully as possible I placed the letter in her book and bolted straight for the exit. My God it felt good, I floated all the way back to the car chuckling like a schoolgirl that had placed a whoopee cushion on their teacher’s chair.

I felt more alive than I have for ages, it was brilliant. I hope the old woman was sleeping and hadn’t suffered a stroke or something and I hope she enjoyed opening the letter. I like that I’ll never know whether she liked it or not. It makes the world seem a little bit bigger.

The Isle of Skye


I crossed to the island at 8:40 as the only foot passenger. Arriving in Armadale it became apparent why I was the only one. There were two buses a day from the ferry port, the first is brilliantly scheduled to leave just before the first ferry arrives and the second is at 4pm.

The road sign said that the town of Broadford where I was headed was 16 miles away and with nothing else planned I figured why not. Skye is a beautiful place but it was a grey, drizzly day and after a couple of hours drizzle turned to a downpour. I gratefully accepted a lift from Callum, a friendly retired builder who, like most people on Skye, knew most people on Skye. He took me to the hostel having told me all about the history of the family of the one person I half knew from Skye.

Broadford is much smaller than I had expected, and as usual the small town meant an excellent hostel. I was one of two guests and the three staff were a lot of fun. They were Cameron, Cameron's brother Ewan and Ewan's dutch girlfriend Eva. Ewan has the biggest plug earring I had ever seen in his left ear and a saggy mess of a right ear where another plug once lived. He is also heavily tattooed with four different girl's names and all sorts of random doodles including a Sainsbury's advert and a lightning bolt on his penis. He offered me a look but I declined because it was only 3 o'clock and I have a strict no nobs before dinner policy.

On the day I arrived both Ewan and Eva had their driving tests. They both passed but doing your test on Skye is basically cheating. There is only one road, no proper junctions or roundabouts and very little traffic. This results in a pass rate of 87%. The girl who took her test before Ewan and Eva did failed but this is because in the tough navigation up and down the one road she managed to hit the kerb three times.

Whether it is a fair test or not I was pleased they passed because they had been very friendly and took me on a drive out to Plockton, a beautiful village on the mainland where Hamish Macbeth was filmed. Ewan drove there and had most of the basics of driving sorted, Eva drove back and she was rubbish. She stalled, had no concept of what the gears were for and didn't understand national speed limits.

Although the weather was pish I enjoyed a walk on my second morning and didn't see another person. I imagine that in summer Skye is one of the best tourist destinations in the UK. In February it is just about the best place I can think of to go for a walk in torrential rain.

In the evening I went to the pub with Eva and Ewan who introduced me to Dundee rules for pool - instead of using a stick you use your head. After two shots I had a headache so we switched back to normal rules. Also chatted to a man who breaks in to banks for a living, on behalf of the banks.

And that was my time in Skye. A good one.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Glasgow and Mallaig


Just one night in Glasgow, my favourite place being the treetop cafe where I went for a pot of tea and a sausage sandwich. It was worn out and in need of a coat of paint but run by a very friendly grey haired woman who called people love. She made it feel warmer than the electric bar heater was managing to.

I managed to spill my milk and of course when the lady came to clear up after me I said 'sorry about it, no use crying over it though!'. The enthusiasm with which I said this made it look like I'd spilt it deliberately to make my feeble joke. The kind lady simply said 'Nee bother, as long as it's not beer' and with that sentiment I decided that I liked Glasgow and would return to this cafe on my way back through.

Off to Skye then. Apparently the best train ride on earth. This may have been hyperbole from proud Scots but the journey through the highlands and over the Harry Potter bridge was certainly by far the best one I'd been on. Scotland is incredibly beautiful with scenery to rival New Zealand and if global warming kicks in they'll have one hell of a tourist trap.

In Mallaig where I spent the night before the boat to the Isle of Skye I stayed in a B&B that was essentially a family's spare room. Lovely, but I felt uncomfortable, I prefer hostels. Staying somewhere nice makes me feel on edge, like I should be nicer. I prefer being able to come and go as I please without anyone noticing whether or not I'm having my second poo of the evening. I dealt with this by using the facilities of the local pub where I also had dinner and played pool with a couple of locals who dive for scallops for a living. Their longest working day is about 2 hours because of compression which leaves a lot of time for the pub and pool, I was well beaten.


February 2011

Newcastle, first port of call: Wetherspoons.
A couple who were served before me cannot be happy. They ordered food and drinks and each item came with a list of instructions on how it should be prepared 'orange juice - no ice, no bits, burger - no tomato and could someone come and wipe our table properly. I felt stressed just listening to them order. All the talking was done by the grey sour faced wife, the man's sole involvement was to walk back to where they were sat to get the table number. She was a complainer and I don't like complaining.

I only ask for two things from a hostel, warm bed and warm shower. My room in Newcastle was cold and the showers colder but when asked on check out if I had enjoyed my stay all I said was 'yes, it was great thanks'. Like I say, I don't like complaining, some people have said to me that things won't improve if you don't complain but if I had been serving the sour faced complainer from wetherspoons I would deliberately have made her food badly to wind her up.

Newcastle is a good size and it has a lot more architectural beauty than I had expected. The nightlife is good too and even though trebles are the drink offer of choice in most bars I saw no trouble other than getting a few evils from a guy who liked Clare.

Clare was a girl I got chatting to, she is a youth worker and excellent company. After a few minutes of talking with her I noticed she had a walking stick, this is because Clare has cerebral palsey. Being slightly tipsy I asked the questions a child might ask without tact - 'Does it hurt?', 'Were you born with it?' and the worst of all what was I thinking asking it question of the day 'Does it affect your brain?'. Thankfully Clare has met plenty of morons like me before and spoke about her disability with confidence although she did admit it made her very self conscious and we had a great evening drinking and laughing. We arranged to meet the next day for coffee but Clare was called in to work (I suspect a solid excuse to avoid any more ignorant questions) and so we thanked each other for a fun night. Clare signing off by saying thanks for not making me feel disabled. Well you might not be able to walk very well but what does that matter when you're such a top lass.

My day was spent getting lost. Good art gallery then followed a sign to Byker expecting to see a Byker Grove themed tourist attraction. There wasn't one, they're missing a trick there.

Early to bed ready for the onward journey to Scotland.